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The Power of One (1989)

by Bryce Courtenay

Series: The Power Of One (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4,3341042,150 (4.26)158
Born in a South Africa divided by racism and hatred, little six-year-old Peekay learns that small can beat big. Armed with this knowledge, he resolves to take on the injustices of his country, and sets his heart on becoming the welterweight champion of the world. Peekay starts to take boxing lessons, makes new friends, collects cacti and plays the piano. Above all, he learns to think with his head and then with his heart. Peekay discovers that nothing can defeat the determination to be true to yourself: this is the power of one.… (more)
  1. 21
    Tandia by Bryce Courtenay (daniellekrista)
    daniellekrista: This is the sequel to The Power of One. While P of O is my favorite book(I have read/listened to it nearly 10 times), Tandia is deeper and darker. This book follows Peekay on his boxing journey and shows the real hate of apartheid in South Africa.… (more)
  2. 00
    A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz (mcenroeucsb)
    mcenroeucsb: Semi-comic coming of age story
  3. 00
    The Syringa Tree: A Novel by Pamela Gien (Bitter_Grace)

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» See also 158 mentions

English (101)  Dutch (1)  Piratical (1)  All languages (103)
Showing 1-5 of 101 (next | show all)
I loved this book. Listened to it from audio and really liked the narrator, too. Honestly, I wasn't sure about the book when I started it. I do not like boxing but this was not really about boxing it was more about inner strength and believing in yourself. It was about the history of Africa, about loyalty, friendship, and kindness. It was well worth listening too and/or reading. There were parts that were terrible and parts that were funny, just like real life. Overall, I recommend this book. Very good read. ( )
  KyleneJones | Apr 25, 2022 |
Read this such a long time ago but remember that it was very poignant. ( )
  sebdup | Dec 11, 2021 |
Audible audiobook performed by Humphrey Bower

How had I never heard of this book before? A challenge to travel the world combined with a challenge to read a book that “made-me-cry” brought this one to my attention, and am I ever glad it did!

Courtenay’s autobiographical novel tells the story of a small boy sent to boarding school because his mother has had a nervous breakdown. He’s bullied and terrorized, but learns how to get along with the help of a pet chicken and a native medicine man. Peekay (a nicer version of the nickname the bullies christen him with) is an intelligent, bookish kid and his reading ability helps him advance in school far beyond his chronological age. Just when he figures he’s gotten the hang of this boarding school, he’s advised that he’s leaving for a new home.

A six-year-old on a several-days-long train journey is pretty vulnerable, but the porter, conductor and other railway employees take Peekay under their wing. This is where he learns about boxing and sets a goal for himself that he pursues relentlessly.

I’m not the writer Courtenay is, so can’t really do justice to the plot of this coming-of-age story. But the writing grabbed me from page one and I was sorry to see it end. Peekay has more than his share of difficulties and tragedies befall many of the people he comes to love and rely on. He’s a great kid and I was cheering for Peekay throughout. And while I’m no fan of boxing, I even enjoyed the lessons on strategy and technique.

Humphrey Bower does a great job of performing the audiobook. He really brings the characters to life, though I did have some difficulties understanding the accent at times. ( )
  BookConcierge | Sep 30, 2021 |
Normally I refrain from writing long reviews, but this wonderful book offers so much to readers, that I must indulge. It is a broad sweeping book about rural South Africa, set in the late 1930s and 1940s prior to apartheid. It imparts a real sense of this exotic country and the friction between its diverse peoples: Dutch Afrikaners, native Boers, a host of black tribes, and the English.

The protagonist Peekay is an only child, sent to boarding school at age 5 when his mother is institutionalized. He is picked on mercilessly because he is youngest and English, and misses his black nanny. His nickname is Pisskop (pisshead) as he wets his bed. Peekay's only friend is a rebellious chicken. Things take a change for the better, when he is sent by train to his grandfather's distant home. He is adopted by conductor, Hoppie Groenewald, who cares for him and teaches one of this book's life lessons: "first with the head, and then with the heart." Hoppie is an amateur boxer, and uses his prodigious skills to beat a much larger opponent at the end of the first leg of Peekay's train journey. Peekay immediately develops a deep passion for boxing and decides he wants to become the welterweight champ of the world. Arriving at his grandfather’s home, Peekay is devastated by the disappearance of his nanny and subjected to his mother's religious fervor. Once again, Peekay is rescued by a mentor, Professor Karl von Vollensteen (a/k/a Doc),whom he meets on a distant mountaintop. Doc too, adopts Peekay, and teaches him about botany, especially cacti, piano, Africa, and of course, life. As a German, Doc becomes jailed as a possible spy, but becomes a popular figure in the local prison, with inmates, guards, and the Commandant. Meanwhile, Peekay visits Doc regularly, and eventually convinces the staff to allow him to train as a boxer. The downtrodden criminal, Geel Piet, teaches Peekay how to box and they develop a symbiotic relationship, as Peekay smuggles tobacco into the prison. Peekay and the local town librarian also start a postal service for the mostly black inmates. Peekay's open-minded acceptance of others, accords him a mythical status with the African people in the prison and community, and he becomes revered as the "Tadpole Angel", creating a large following as his boxing career advances.

Eventually, Peekay earns a scholarship and it sent to an exclusive prep school, where he meets his next good friend and mentor, a wealthy Jew named Morrie. Equally brilliant, the two develop businesses together, which allow them to afford getting Peekay trained at an elite boxing school. Peekay continues his unblemished record in the ring, eventually agreeing to fight a rising black champion, who has just turned professional, even though this is not legal and theoretically, a mismatch. And yet, there is great drama as this fighter's name is familiar to Peekay, he is a descendent of a tribal chief, and the legend of the Tadpole Angel is placed at risk. Peekay is a highly popular student and athlete, joining the elite leadership of the prep school, but he continues to work for the people, opening a school to teach local blacks to read and write, drawing the ire of the local white police. Morrie is accepted to Oxford, and Peekay does not win the coveted Rhodes Scholarship that would allow them to stay together. Instead, Peekay decides to take a grueling, dangerous job in the mines to build his strength and body mass. Once again, Peekay befriends a loner, in this case a huge Russian, who barely speaks English. Peekay's productivity makes him the envy of all, but he stays too long in this job, leading to disaster. My only complaint is that despite the final physical confrontation in the mine bar, with a lifelong foe, we don't know if Peekay achieves his life-long ambition so now I need to read the 900-page sequel. Given author Courtenay's gift for storytelling, I do not expect this will be too much of a chore. ( )
  skipstern | Jul 11, 2021 |
I was intrigued by The Power of One when my son read it for school this year, and I'm glad that I decided to read it myself, but it was a real slow-mover for me. I come away from it knowing more than I ever have before about WWII-era, pre-apartheid South Africa, and reluctant to leave behind some of Courtenay's more vivid characters and scenes, but thinking it's a bit flawed as a novel. A few too many conveniently coincidental events weakened the story, and 513 pages later, I'm still not sure what to make of Courtenay's "power of one" theme. It's a story that extols the values of manly men (What's more manly--and impossible for me to praise, no matter how well Courtenay writes about it--than boxing, the sport to which main character Peekay is devoted?), and the final chapter's gruesome, even if well-deserved, act of vengeance cemented that impression. On the other hand, it shines a perceptive light on the racism that was soon to nearly tear South Africa apart, and features characters who use their education and critical thinking skills to side step the constraints imposed by a racist social order. A mixed-bag, and a good read overall, but maybe not a great one. ( )
  CaitlinMcC | Jul 11, 2021 |
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This is what happened.
Man is a romantic at heart and will always put aside dull, plodding reason for the excitement of an enigma.  As Doc had pointed out, mystery not logic, is what gives us hope and keeps us believing in a force greater than our own insignificance.
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Born in a South Africa divided by racism and hatred, little six-year-old Peekay learns that small can beat big. Armed with this knowledge, he resolves to take on the injustices of his country, and sets his heart on becoming the welterweight champion of the world. Peekay starts to take boxing lessons, makes new friends, collects cacti and plays the piano. Above all, he learns to think with his head and then with his heart. Peekay discovers that nothing can defeat the determination to be true to yourself: this is the power of one.

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Average: (4.26)
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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0143004557, 0143204793


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